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1996 Camaro Z28 Suspension upgrades

1996 Camaro Z28 Suspension Upgrades

Before I bought my '96 Z28 I had a '75 Camaro LT. I upgraded the suspension on the '75 with stiffer springs, bigger swaybars, gas charged shocks etc and it ended up handling very well. Imagine my disgust when I got in the '96 and found it to not handle as well as the 20+ year old '75! My main complaint was excessive understeer. To be frank, it plowed. And when I hit the throttle to get the tail out, it wanted to swap ends.

The first thing I did was changing the front end alignment. Thanks to idiots such as Ralph Nader, massive understeer is considered "safe", and GM dials in understeer with the alignment out of (probably justified) fear of being sued if they didn't. The main problem with the factory alignment is positive camber. Not only does it ruin handling, it also causes the tires to wear unevenly. Below are the before and after alignment settings.

  Camber (dgr) Caster (dgr) Toe (dgr)
Stock +0.4 +5.0 0
Modified -0.4 +3.5 0

I was trying to get a full -0.5 degree camber, but the adjustment slots were not long enough, so I had to settle for -0.4. The modified alignment above made a big difference in handling. Understeer decreased dramatically. However, bodylean was still a problem, as well as some chassis flex.

 Swaybars.gif (6046 bytes) These swaybars from LG motorsports (www.lgmotorsports.com) are a lot stiffer than the stock units. They come with special bushings and are powdercoated red. Installation is a breeze. These swaybars really do work. Bodylean was brought well within a reasonable level, and it balanced the car better as it decreased understeer further.

However, with the suspension stiffened up, chassis flex became noticeable. My car having T-tops didn't help either.

Sfc.gif (5541 bytes) These subframe connectors from LG are welded in just inside the rocker panels. The front attaches to the front subframe, and the rear attaches to the rear trailing arm mount. This way, the front and rear suspension is tied together and chassis flex is drastically reduced. Only problem is that the fuel lines are routed exactly where the drivers side subframe connector has to be welded. Further, the fuel lines are made out of plastic...

I have to admit to being nervous as I welded in these puppies. I loosened the fuel lines, and wrapped them. First I used aluminum foil, and then several layers of water-soaked rags. This did work fine and the welding was completed without incidents.

Engbrace.gif (9463 bytes) At the same time as I installed the subframe connectors, I also installed a shock tower brace. This ties the front shock towers together and goes over the engine.

These modifications really made the car a lot more fun to drive. Interior rattles are also prevented by the stiffening of the chassis. Although I have logged 30k miles on the car, I have no rattles or squeaks.

Speedline.JPG (13466 bytes) I had been lusting for some 17" wheels for awhile when LG made me a great deal on these Speedline Aliseos. These are the same wheels that came on the 1995 Pontiac Firehawk, as well as the 1996 Firebird Comp TA. LG has since stopped selling these. As of now, the only one I know of that offers these rims is Lingenfelter, but he wants a hefty $349 per rim. I got a set of BFG Comp TA 275/40-ZR17 tires to go with the rims. These tires have been ok, but I plan to replace them with Firestone SZ50 285/40-ZR17 when the BFGs wear out. They are almost at the threadwear indicators as I write this, so check back for impressions on the Firestones before long...

Update: I got my new Firestone SZ50s on the car. I went with the 285/40-17s and sofar I like them alot. They have slightly more straight line traction compared to the BFGs when they were new. Also, they are quiet on the highway and corner very well. Another big plus is that they fill the wheelwell up more which makes the car look much better. 

Pfc_z.jpg (6389 bytes) I drove the car on the Memphis Roadcourse and soon found out the stock brakes were not designed for full out driving on a racetrack. After about 10 minutes they started fading and they soon were so bad I could hardly stop the car. At one point I mashed the brakes and they were just about gone. I was approaching a sharp S-curve at a much to high speed. I double-clutched it into 2nd gear as a desperate attempt to decrease speed, but didn't get it to slow down enough. Fortunately I only made a 180 and didn't hurt anything. However, it convinced me to upgrade the brakes! I installed a set of these Performance Friction Corporation Z-pads. I also changed the brake fluid to Castrol LMA. These simple upgrades helped  a lot and the next year when I drove on the Memphis track, I had plenty of brakes. After a long race session, the pedal would be spongy, and pedal effort was high, but the car would always stop.

With the above upgrades, the car handles well. If I'd have to complain about anything it would be 2 things:

WB01541_.gif (712 bytes) Brake dive. With the stock springs, the car dives a lot during hard braking. This would be fixed by installing stiffer springs, something I might do in the future.

WB01541_.gif (712 bytes) Incorrect weight distribution. This one is harder. With approximately 56%/44% front to rear weight distribution it's hard to get the car perfectly balanced. Going into a turn, it will understeer, and then with some throttle the tail kicks out. I never realized to benefits of 50/50 weight distribution until I got my '71 Corvette. Even with the big-block in it, it still has 50.1/49.9 weight distribution. The result of the 50/50 balance is very noticeable. Going into a turn, all 4 wheels slide. I don't have to use the throttle to kick the tail out. At the end of the turn, I can get on the throttle more, without going into a wide slide. There's also a lot more traction going in a straight line.

motive.jpg (10578 bytes) A set of 4.10 gears are always nice... With the 0.5:1 6th gear, high speed cruising is still comfortable. 75mph is only 2000 rpm, even with the 4.10s. The gears were installed by a local shop that did a pretty poor job. The gears had a noticable whine during so called 'float' condition. Float is when the accelerator is almost, but not quite, released and the drivetrain is unloaded. I had to re-adjust the gears myself and found that increasing the backlash to 0.009" cured the noise (the shop set it at 0.006"). This shop went out of business when most of the Vipers they supercharged blew their motors. There is justice in the world.

As for the brand I got, Motive, they used to buy surplus GM gears. This means that you could buy $190 motive gears and get genuine $400 GM gears. However, many motive gears are made by motive, and are not as good as the repackaged GMs. The GMs are quieter and stronger. There are a few telltales that will tell motives and repackaged GMs apart. 

WB01541_.gif (712 bytes) The ringgear will be stamped "GM 7 5/8" on the GMs.
WB01541_.gif (712 bytes) The pinion gear will have a handscribed or painted number on it on the motives. GMs have no handscribed or painted numbers.

Rumour is Motive stopped buying surplus GM gears in the fall of '97, so the GM Motives might be getting harder to find.

Ripper.JPG (7067 bytes) This is the Ripper, made by B&M. I really, really like this shifter. It makes for very short throws with great feel. Installation is very easy and they go for about $170. The one for the Camaro has a straight shaft, not curved like the one in the picture.

tacover.jpg (11783 bytes) The TA rear end cover/girdle is meant to strenghten the rear axle. It has adjustable bolts that press against the carrier bearing cups. I figured with the weak 7 5/8" axle in the camaro, it could need all the help it can get. Also, the TA cover has a drainplug, which is nice. Since the cover does not have a magnet like the stock cover, I installed a magnetic drainplug.

Biglite.JPG (6456 bytes) When you have a dragster with open headers next to you it's very hard to hear your engine. Looking at the tach really isn't what I want to do during a dragrace, so a Shift Light is a great addition. The light is mounted on top of the dash (I put mine right next to the a-pillar). When a pre-determined RPM is reached, a light shines into your eye and you know it's time to shift. The activation RPM is easily changed by replacable 'pills'. The pill can be seen in the picture. It's that little yellow thing saying '7.0'. I don't shift at 7000rpm, though. My pill says 6.0.